Epicor looks to reinvent ERP

Epicor’s top technology execs discuss where the industry and the company are headed on the technology front, and Epicor’s strategy to differentiate itself.

Himanshu Palsule, Epicor’s Chief Technology and Product Officer

NASHVILLE – The theme of this year’s Epicor Insights event was growth, inextricably linked with change. Joe Cowan, the company’s CEO, has pledged rapid change since he came to the company to take over the top job three and a half years ago, to make Epicor’s products simpler, to make the company easier to do business with, and to embrace innovation, particularly into the cloud.

That means a commitment to the task of re-inventing ERP – a monumental one for an ERP vendor. It starts by refocusing around  the data, rather than the applications, said Himanshu Palsule, Epicor’s Chief Technology and Product Officer.

“The Holy Grail of ERP from the beginning has been to have a system of record – the only single truth within an organization,” Palsule said. “In the past, these have been very application-centric. We need to have the data drive decisions and drive alerts, have the application fit that. Anywhere data can automate a task because it is aware, that will happen. We need to enable our systems to be smart enough to configure that for people.”

While the application is the framework, the data is the intelligence, Palsule said.

“Once we build the framework out, Epicor has to find where we fit on the value chain,” he said. “If we move too far one way, we get into tools that we don’t want to get into, that Microsoft and AWS have. If we move too far the other way, we wind up focused on solving sensor issues.”

Automation and data entry, particularly frictionless data entry, started years ago with EDI but has been evolving to be more context-aware.

“All of those will lead to a point where traditional ERP changes,” Palsule said. “It was important to get Dedicated Tenancy and the API opening completed, and we have done that. We are working on chatbots. It’s not that far along, so we didn’t spotlight it this year at Insights.”

Going forward, Palsule stressed that the focus isn’t on core transactional processes for general ledgers.

“That’s a commodity,” he said. “The focus needs to be on the extensibility of the product – like chatbots and working across an ecosystem. The context of the ERP is where Epicor is moving forward at the roadmap.”

Palsule said that all tasks that can automated quickly –  anything that involves manual data entry so you don’t need to enter data – will be fully automated in less than five years.

“That is a challenge we have given our teams,” he said. “Even today, with geofencing and remote tools, we know when a box comes in and leaves, and it automatically updates your system. We are also pushing our teams to move up the value chain – installation integration implementation –  so we don’t have to spend any time on that.”

So what are likely to be the last tasks to be automated? Palsule said that following usage patterns, things like price configuration, warehouse management and tacking will follow.

“What is more complex though, is when you differentiate one customer from the other – that secret sauce of their processes,” he said. “That will be different from one company to the other.

“Other hard areas will be what customers dictate they will be,” Palsule added. “Customers want automation to a point. Some fear control and compliance, and different industries, companies and geos will dictate what the upper limit is to us.”

The growth of millennials in the workforce is likely to increase acceptance of automation.

“For things to hit inflexion points, you need converging things to happen,” Palsule said. “I think the biggest one here is millennials’ acceptance of automation. They will fight legacy models of drop down menus, and I think over the next five to seven years, you will see millennials be the catalyst for ERPs to start behaving like that.”

Palsule discussed the transition from Epicor’s old 18-24 month development cycles to 6 months, and how far he realistically thinks they can take that.

“Time is the reason we started to do daily builds,” he said. “When the day closes here, people in India come in and they do that build, so the next day here, our developers come on and they have a new build,” he said. “Every two weeks we can put out a new patch, and every six months we come out with a new release.

“I would have liked a new release every four months,” he added. “That was the original plan. Some of our customers say that four months is too frequent for them. We need to demonstrate to these customers that these are non-breaking changes. The goal is three months. That’s not done in ERP, but that’s why I want to do it.”

Moving faster requires getting customers to accept a more agile development cycle.

“Some people are used to a 6-month beta cycle,” Palsule said. “Well, we can’t do that with a six month release. It’s all part of the agile cycle – backward compatible and no breaking changes.

Scott Hays, Epicor’s senior vice president, product marketing, discussed Epicor’s mobility strategy, and that, unlike some in the industry, they are not committed to seamless mobile-desktop consistency.

“There are some who believe the ultimate user experience is having consistency between desktop and mobile,” he said. “HTML5 will give you that. But HTML5 will also diverge from the native app experience.  I can be convinced either one is the right approach. Our approach with the Epicor mobile framework is to leverage the things that are leverageable in native apps, to get the benefit and ease of use of native apps without having to write the code three times for different platforms. Will we say you can run it all on mobile, every function? That isn’t our message. There are some things that are better on a big screen.”

Hays said that Epicor’s initial mobile apps are being sunsetted and are in the process of being replaced.

“Mobile CRM is the first one that will go out, the first of three applications that will be native, and which will serve all three platforms,” he stated.

Finally, while the move to the cloud is central to Epicor’s strategy and was highlighted at the Insights event, one major data point from last year’s event was noticeable this time by its absence. In 2016, they highlighted a data point from a commissioned survey that 50 per cent of their install base of industry customers were not interested in moving to the cloud – not just year, or next year, or ever.

This year, Epicor believes, both from their own talks with customers and independent third party analyst data, that that 50 per cent data is already obsolete.

“Whether that 50 per cent moves to 30 in the next 5 years or 10 – and we have just seen data that has it moving to 30 per cent over the next 10 years – movement in support for cloud place and there is a realization that many companies who are just on-prem will disappear,” Hays said. “Today, 70 per cent of our prospects think they will go cloud.”